New day for OSHA?

March 17th, 2009 by Julie Ferguson

Labor leaders and business leaders are in agreement that the new administration will mean a more activist OSHA, with more targeted investigations and tougher penalties for hiding workplace injuries. Some predict that there will be an increase in standards – although that shouldn’t be a tough record to beat since there was only one standard issued under the Bush administration for Hexavalent Chromium and that occurred under court order. Others think that employer penalties for willful violation of safety standards that result in injuries or deaths could also become a reality. Health and safety advocates and labor leaders are hoping that the new administration will undo some of the backsliding in terms of safety regulations and standards that occurred during the prior administration.
Among the campaign promises he made, Barrack Obama’s platform included a pledge to increase worker safety. So far he appears to be making good on that promise. OSHA got a 6% increase for 2009, or an additional $27 million, to bring the agency’s total budget for the year to $513. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also was increased by $52 million, some of which is for tracking injury and illness statistics. He has also proposed raising discretionary funding for the Department of Labor by $1.5 billion by 2010, with a sizable portion to go to OSHA.
At her recent swearing in ceremony, U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis put employers who are subjecting employees to dangerous working conditions or are shorting employee pay on notice: “Let me be clear, there is a new sheriff in town,” she stated, emphasizing her intention to use tough enforcement, transparency, cooperation and balance to protect workers. On the health and safety front, Solis has already taken action to expedite a standard to protect workers from bronchiolitis obliterans, a serious and potentially fatal lung disease associated with exposure to food flavorings containing diacetyl, or the so-called popcorn lung. Many think that progress will also be made on ergonomics and tuberculosis standards, as well as strengthened standards for crane safety.